Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Webb to Deliver an Aggressive Rebuttal to Bush Iraq Policy"

Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) tonight will deliver a blistering eight-minute response to the President's State of the Union address. Aides promised it will be an aggressive challenge to Bush's Iraq policies from the newly empowered Democratic majority in Congress.
Webb will speak live from an historic Capitol Hill meeting room and is likely to display the same pugnacious scowl and blunt manner that won over Virginia voters in November and later generated headlines in a face-to-face exchange with Bush at the White House.

In an interview this morning, Webb called Bush's new Iraq policy "an adjustment" and said "an adjustment is not a strategy. What is the end point?"

Democrats owe their newfound control of the Senate to Webb's slim and improbable victory over former Virginia Sen. George Allen (R). Webb -- a Vietnam war hero turned antiwar zealot -- also embodies his party's central message: a determination to oppose the Iraq war while still supporting the troops who are there.

And Webb has become a folk hero among liberals and bloggers for brusquely telling Bush at a White House social event that questions about Webb's Marine son serving in Iraq are "between me and my boy."

So after just three weeks as a U.S. senator, the former Republican became the choice of the Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives to carry their blunt warning about Bush's new war strategy.

"He represents to me what the new America is all about," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), as he faced about 40 reporters with Webb and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "Someone who understands what it means to go to war, what it means to have peace, what it means to work on a bipartisan basis. I think he's the perfect person to answer the president."

For the second year in a row, Democrats tonight turn to a newly-elected Virginia leader for their response to Bush. Last year, they picked Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), fresh from his victory in the conservative state, to speak for the national party.

Kaine offered an upbeat, hopeful message tinged with a few jabs at Bush. Webb, a former boxer, is expected to offer a harsher critique of the president's six years in office. With his party in control of Congress now, Webb's brief speech will be more aggressive and confident, said Paul Reagan, his chief of staff.

Even before either speech was given, Republican party officials sent out e-mails criticizing Webb as "in lock step with Defeatocrats on Iraq" and calling him "just another Dem hothead."

During the briefing with Reid and Pelosi, Webb chided Bush and the White House because "they don't have a plan."

For Webb, tonight's speech caps a remarkable year that began with an underfunded, largely dismissed campaign to unseat a leading presidential hopeful. For most of the year, his campaign was ignored by pundits and criticized by suspicious Democrats.

But his bid for office caught on even as Allen's was rocked by gaffes and scandal. After his 9,000-vote victory, Webb thrust his son's combat boots over his head, publicly taking them off for the first time since the Senate campaign began.

"To the people who have become such loyal followers of Jim, we're motivated by the fact that he's willing to fight for what he believes in," said Jim McBride, 32, who organized aspeech-watching party for 100 of Webb's most die-hard campaign volunteers at the Bailey's Pub and Grille in Arlington.

"We are waiting for the Democratic party to fight the way Jim is fighting," McBride said.

Webb began his day by spilling a cup of coffee on his blue shirt, prompting an aide to urge a change of clothes instead of just a buttoning of his jacket. "I told him this was one of the biggest appearances he'd make in his life, so maybe we should change the shirt," said communications director Jessica Smith. For the first time, networks planned to broadcast the State of the Union and Webb's response in high definition television. That prompted Webb's staff to hire a makeup specialist who could make sure that Webb looked good even in those crystal-clear pictures. Aides said Webb has taken the speech seriously, vigorously rewriting the initial draft suggested by the offices of Reid and Pelosi. But like past State of the Union responders, Webb received much unsolicited advice. Asked why the speech grew from five minutes to more than eight, Smith said, "that's what happens when you have input from everyone."

Kristian Denny Todd, Webb's spokeswoman during the campaign, said the speech is a big moment for Webb, who spent much of the last two decades writing books and articles about war and its consequences.

"This is the opportunity he's wanted for four years," Todd said. "Like one of his Op-Eds, but broadcast to millions of Americans in his own voice."

No comments: